A short thriller by Colin Devonshire
The River of Jewels
Gordon jumped off the train, alone as ever. The ticket collector looked him up and down, taking the sweat damped piece of paper. He nodded forward as his passenger strode towards the exit of the throbbing station.
From the end of November to the beginning of December, Kanchanaburi celebrates River Kwai Bridge Week, at the same time the Red Cross is hosting a fair. Perfect for Gordon’s needs.
He checked into The River Flow guest house.
“I booked six months ago. Mr G. Bank,” he said at the desk.
The pretty young lady flicked through several ledgers worn pages.
“Ah, here we are. May I see your passport, please?”
The small burgundy book slid across the plastic topped workstation. Their eyes met briefly. Gordon broke contact. The girl handed back the passport.
“One week, yes? Have a pleasant stay. Do you want some literature…” she said.
Gordon had turned and was looking for room nine on the second floor.
He slumped to the bed, throwing his backpack to the corner in one movement. Head in hands, he wept as he fingered the key he wore around his neck. He then forced a smile, remembering how it set off the metal detector at the airport. The key was unusual, wider than the norm, allowing for three decorative prongs serving no useful purpose. He liked it. Shaking himself from morose feelings, he fetched his notepad from his bag.
‘Dear Diary,’ he laughed. There were only a few paragraphs in it. ‘Today, my dad died. I held his hand as he spoke his last words to me.’
Gordon stood, stretched and went downstairs in search of a Coke. The receptionist looked up and smiled at him. Gordon nodded, jumping two stairs at a time. Keen to get back to his notes.
‘My dad told me about my granddad’s war experience. He was a prisoner in a Japanese camp at the River Kwai. One day he was forced to join a group of Aussie soldiers and assist the guards to move heavy crates into a cave. Names were read out. The men stood. Granddad was tired and slow. There was another G. Bank, an Aussie. He stood sharply, scared of a beating. He followed the guards. The men were never seen again. Granddad was lucky. He attempted to escape. He failed and was tortured, but he kept hold of a key he had lifted from an officer. The key was stolen on the day he was moving grates. That key I wear around my neck.’
Gordon sighed and flicked the next page open.
‘Today, I bought an air ticket to Bangkok.’
He remembered the trouble he had with the online booking system. “Supposed to be easy for people my age,” he chuckled to himself.
The next four dates were blank. Then, ‘Taxi to the airport, arrived on time. The plane was thirty minutes late taking off.’
He wondered why he bothered writing rubbish like that. Bored on the plane? Who would be interested?
‘Today I will travel to the river, by bus from Bangkok. The hunt begins here.’
“Not the classic diary of Anne Frank, or even, Samuel Pepys,” he chuckled to himself. “But it’s a start.”
He had noticed some leaflets in reception earlier, deciding he should look through those. “You never know.” He said to himself.
At home, he had read page after page about the lost Japanese treasure. Hours of research gave him little hope of finding the gold. But he had to try. His father poo-poohed the idea and had done nothing about the story G. Bank senior loved telling and retelling. The last G. Bank in the family line would do everything in his power to find out the truth.
Sitting in reception, he helped himself to the advertising material offering river trips on boats, walking treks through the jungle and a voyage on the famous railway.
“That’s the one I want to experience,” he said to the girl.
“Sorry, sir. You have missed today’s trip. But they run every day. How about tomorrow?”
“Please book me in.” He answered. “What can I do now?”
“You can go to the museum?” said the helpful girl, smiling.
She drew a map, explaining it was only five minutes’ walk away.
Gordon kissed his key and set off.
He entered the museum, looking up, down and all around, he felt his grandfather’s presence, as if he was leading him deeper and deeper, as if a donkey tugged by the nose, Gordon put up no resistance, he walked to the back.
A man spoke to him in Thai, stopping him at a locked door. His jacket had the museum logo stitched on his pocket. The man looked as if he was here when it first opened. Gordon reached past the man and tried to turn the handle. The man placed his hand on Gordon’s forearm. He applied no pressure but looked deep into Gordon’s eyes.
He stood back as if holding an electric eel. “Khun!” he mumbled in Thai. Time stopped.
“Hello, hello, anyone in here?” a young lady asked, repeating her enquiry in Thai.
She saw the men and walked to the back.
“Hi, Mr Gordon, I just finished my shift and have to walk this way home. I thought I’d see if you had found the place. Lovely isn’t it? My name is Petal if you hadn’t noticed my name tag at work.”
Gordon hadn’t paid the girl any attention before. Now he saw her, saw her beauty. She was gorgeous, out of the stuffy uniform and now dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, her hair bouncing around her shoulders not tied into a stuffy bun.
The man still gawped, not at her, but Gordon.
“Is anything wrong uncle,” she asked. Speaking Thai, she addressed him politely.
“It can’t be him? I helped him in the camps,” said the old man.
Petal and Gordon looked at each other, then at the man.
“No, you must be mistaken. The light is playing tricks with your eyes,” she said.
The man shook his head and started acting. He pretended he was opening a door, twisting and turning a handle. Gordon and Petal were confused by his actions.
Then he acted, this time unlocking a door.
Gordon pulled the chain from his neck. A key hung and dangled. The man staggered back nodding and mumbling in Thai.
“Uncle, sit, please sit.” Pedal led him to a chair.
The man mopped his brow, stuffed the handkerchief into his pocket. He stood and grabbed Gordon’s wrist and led him to the back. He unlocked the door and pushed it back. Signalling to follow him in.
If Gordon was expecting a room full of antique treasure, he would be disappointed. Boxes upon boxes coated in dust and spider webs. The man walked further back before abruptly turning right, stopping, and pointing down.
There was another dust-covered box similar to all the others, but this one was longer and slimmer.
The man tugged it clear, swept off the dust and began unwrapping its greaseproof paper. Gordon and Petal silently watched as a solid steel container became free.
The man shoved it to Gordon, who turned it this way and that. He passed it to Petal. She too saw nothing but a hunk of polished steel, scratched and dented with several pitted holes from years of service, whatever it was. She gave it back.
The man twisted his wrist, acting as if turning a key.
Gordon pulled the chain over his head and gave the key to the man.
It was a key, like any old key. The man knew better. He held the key at each end and forced the middle. A tiny hinge bent. Pinpoints were sticking out, one larger than the rest. He handed the key back to Gordon, pointing to the steel.
Gordon scratched the key backwards and forwards across the metal. Searching for a hole. Click. The key stopped, its seemingly insignificant points locked into small holes on the box surface. The top and bottom separated, revealing a standard keyhole. Gordon needed no telling what he must do. He bent the key to its original shape. It entered the hole, sliding to a stop. Click.
Petal gasped. The man needed support from the shelving. Gordon stared, open-mouthed.
Before them lay a beautifully cut ruby. Blood red, begging for light to be seen in its glory.
“Christ,” stammered Gordon. “It is the size of a paperback novel. It must be worth a fortune!”
The old man was mumbling in Thai.
“He said forget the ruby.” She looked at the man, who nodded. “That is the key to a real and unbelievable fortune of gold and gems hidden in caves!”